We have all heard about a variety of fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and etc. Yet, the fact of them being established, well I mean at least, in the beginning of the 17th century A.D.
However, recent findings have found that we have been blindly conceiving the hypothesis of “Fairy tales” were either modern or old, and if old – not earlier than 2 millenniums ago.
The basis for the new study, published in Royal Society Open Science, is a massive online repository of more than 2000 distinct tales from different Indo-European cultures known as the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index, which was compiled in 2004. Although not all researchers agree on the specifics, all modern Indo-European cultures (encompassing all of Europe and much of Asia) descended from the Proto-Indo-European people who lived during the Neolithic Period (10,200 B.C.E.–2000 B.C.E.) in Eastern Europe. Much of the world’s modern language is thought to have evolved from them.
The conductor of this research was an anthropologist from Durham University in the United Kingdom, Jamshid Tehrani. In their research they have investigated approximately 275 stories, including classics such as Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast.
The procedure is most closely to the modern way of advertising any content on the internet – simply passing it on and on. The exact same situation happened with fairy tales.
They were transmitted through language, and the shoots and branches of the Indo-European language tree were well-defined, so the scientists could trace a tale’s history back up the tree—and thus back in time. If both Slavic languages and Celtic languages had a version of Jack and the Beanstalk (and the analysis revealed they might), for example, chances are the story can be traced back to the “last common ancestor.” That would be the Proto-Western-Indo-Europeans from whom both lineages split at least 6800 years ago.
The approach mirrors how an evolutionary biologist might conclude that two species came from a common ancestor if their genes both contain the same mutation not found in other modern animals.
Tehrani says that the successful fairy tales may persist because they’re “minimally counterintuitive narratives.” That means they all contain some cognitively dissonant elements—like fantastic creatures or magic—but are mostly easy to comprehend. Beauty and the Beast, for example, contains a man who has been magically transformed into a hideous creature, but it also tells a simple story about family, romance, and not judging people based on appearance.
The fantasy makes these tales stand out, but the ordinary elements make them easy to understand and remember. This combination of strange, but not too strange, Tehrani says, may be the key to their persistence across millennia.
“This is of course something we now need to test more rigorously,” he says. “That’s the next phase of this research.”
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